The Old Gods in American Gods have roots in the past and in mythology. While we might know the ins and outs of the New Gods, like Media and Technical Boy, there’s probably a lot we can still learn about their predecessors. For those of you hoping to get a better understanding of these characters before you continue on with American Gods, we have you covered. Get to know the history that inspires the characters in our American Gods History Primer series.
Easter, a.k.a. Ostara, a.k.a. Eostre
In the Series
The name of the game for many of the Old Gods is compromise. They’ve been brought to American and left behind, so they have to do what they can to keep going. It could mean bending alliances, playing both sides, or soaking up belief from a holiday named after you, but at the same time, having nothing to do with you. That’s where we met Easter. And you know what? I don’t judge her, and neither should you. Easter has found a way to make things work. She’s found a way to not only survive, but to flourish. I respect her.
Easter has thrown whole hog into the modern celebration of the holiday, complete with honey ham, chocolates, and flowers. People celebrate in the name of Easter, and she can feed off their energy. Most of them wouldn’t recognize the name “Ostara,” but Easter doesn’t see it as an insult. She also welcomes multiple representations of Jesus into her home as a compromise (see, it’s important). She’s gamed the system, but it’s meant holding back. Mr. Wednesday cajoled Easter into letting loose and showing the world what’s she’s capable of, and to say it was a mix of awe-inspiring and terrifying would be an understatement.
Easter planted a flag, and by doing so, she’s forcing oblivious humans to take notice.
Ostara can be found in Germanic mythology as the Saxon goddess of the spring. It was her responsibility to bring the spring each year. She’s associated with the rising sun and also fertility (I’m sure you’re already imagining a connection to bunnies). Spring is a time of birth, creation, light, and growth. Ostara, also called Eostre, represented all those things.
Eostre had a festival of her own on the Spring Equinox. It will not surprise you to learn Eostre was associated with a rabbit. As she was the spring goddess of fertility, an egg was her symbol. These ties are one explanation for how bunnies and eggs became connected to modern Easter activities. However, not much was documented about Eostre, and it’s possible she was an invention of the scholarly monk Venerable Bede (Jacob Grimm of the Grimm brothers believed Bede and somewhat validated the story by referencing Ostara in his work).
Another story featuring the goddess Ostara offers a different reason for bunnies coming to the party–and this tale, like all myths, has altered over the years like a game of telephone. The most commonly referenced version says she arrived late to the party with spring and found a bird dying because of the cold. Ostara felt guilty and cared for the bird (some iterations say she took the bird as a lover). Then, she turned the bird into a rabbit and granted him the ability to lay colored eggs one day of the year. Those rainbow-hued eggs have become a key aspect of the holiday.
There’s little historical documentation for Eostre or Ostara, so like all things with the Old Gods, it’s a matter of what you believe.